Non-fiction is a vast category of writing, with endless types of writers and writing. It is an often overlooked, yet extremely important category of literature. Everything from travel writing to journalism comes under non-fiction writing.
As we work on the HWR-Nielsen Bestsellers List every week, it feels great to see Indian Non-Fiction Writers trending the charts now. Not very long ago, the bestselling list largely consisted of international non-fiction writers with very few Indian non-fiction writers featured therein.
This clearly goes to show how the reading trends are now changing in India. From a time when Non-Fiction writers were told that India is not a market for Non-Fiction to a time when so many Non-Fiction Writers are creating new records with their books – it is refreshing to witness this change.
But did you know the various categories non-fiction writers write in? Who are the bestselling non-fiction writers in India and how does one go about joining their ranks? These are some of the questions we will address in this article.
Types of Non-fiction Writers
Self Help, Career Guidance and Guide books
Self-help books are perhaps the most popular sub-category of non-fiction. Everything from manuals on emotional well-being to social etiquette is hugely popular.
Observe to Unmask: 100 Small Things to Know People Better, Making a Difference: The IAS as a Career, Perfect Parenting, etc.
Pushpendra Mehta, Alok Ranjan, Sushant Kalra, etc.
Context and Use
Many people find self-help books extremely helpful in navigating life. They draw comfort and confidence from them. These books empower people to take charge of their mental health and relationships.
One needs to be a person to reckon with in terms of knowledge and experience to be able to write a self-help book or a guidebook of living life well. For e.g. Life Coach, Healer, Yoga Teacher, Pranic Healer, Reiki Practioner, Psychotherapist, etc.
How To books
How to Books basically include tips and tricks about any activity including how to approach them and execute them. It starts from a range for beginners and goes onto the expert level.
How-to books include cookbooks, recipe books, books on sewing, crochet, embroidery, on music including singing and playing an instrument, etc. They are popular forms of non-fiction writing. Many cuisines have been made popular through the widespread distribution of cookbooks. While the same may art forms have become accessible to people globally through such how-to books written by non-fiction writers of prominence.
Cooking Up a Storm: The Misra Family Way, The Best of Samaithu Paar, On the Kebab Trail: A Moti Mahal Cookbook, The Essential Kerala Cookbook, Pilgrim’s Flavours, Recipes for Life, etc.
Suneeta and Susmita Misra, S. Meenakshi Ammal, Monish Gujral, Vijayan Kannampilly, Vikas Khanna, Sudha Menon etc.
Context and Use
Cookbooks can be a way to record culinary traditions. People also share exciting new recipes and fusion experiments through recipe books. ‘Cooking Up a Storm’ for example is a labour of love and a collection of recipes made by a family.
Cookbooks are usually written by chefs or by food critics who basically taste the food at various hotels and restaurants and rate them.
Similarly, how-to books on various art forms are written by artists who have been practicing that art form for years and have become an expert themselves. Or by someone close to them, who has observed the journey of mastering that artform closely.
One needs to have a name on social media and otherwise for a traditional publishing house to consider their cookery book.
Biographies and Autobiographies, Memoirs
Biographies are books written about people’s life. If someone writes a book about their own life, it is known as an autobiography. Usually, biographies are written about important or famous historic figures.
And Then One Day, Unfinished- A Memoir, Sach Kahun Toh – An Autobiography, A Rude Life- The Memoir, My Life in Full, Guru Dutt – An Unfinished Story, Rekha – The Untold Story etc.
Naseeruddin Shah, Priyanka Chopra, Neena Gupta, Vir Sanghavi, Indra Nooyi, Yasser Usman, etc.
Context and use
Biographies and autobiographies offer a glimpse into the lives of public figures. They can even shed light on the events of the times they were living in. Most of the time the celebrities/ prominent businessmen or important social figures write their own biographies while at times, a journalist writes their story. Like Yasser Usman had been a film journalist for years before he decided to pen the biographies of Rekha and Guru Dutt. The former was as he had witnessed it closely during his career as a film journalist, the latter was more based on research and interviews conducted with people alive at that time.
If you are writing a biography of someone who is still alive, get the person’s consent. Even while writing about someone long gone, your work should not have a negative impact on anyone. For historic figures, you can try to apply for grants that sponsor academic research.
Travel writing is any writing that records a journey. Travelers have written books about their experiences of places that became historical records. Travel writing varies in style and tone. As long as it is essentially about the exploration of places, it counts as travel writing.
Borderlands: Travels Across India’s Boundaries, The Shooting Star: A Girl, Her Backpack and the World, The Travel Gods must be crazy, One Life to Ride: A Motorcycle Journey to the High Himalayas, etc.
Pradeep Damodaran, Shivya Nath, Sudha Mahalingam, Ajit Harsinghani, etc.
Context and Use
Travel writing has had a special place in literature for millennia. Much of what we know about ancient civilizations comes from travel writing. In the modern world, it adds to our knowledge about the richness and diversity of the world. Different places are made accessible to people through the writings of travelers.
In the domain of travel writing, there are two major ways to get published. If you are writing or have written a book, the next step would be to approach an agent or publisher. In this case, the process of publishing is not very different from publishing any book. You can look at details of how to get your book published in India here:
In the case of Shivya Nath, she was a prominent travel blogger before she decided to publish her book which was published by Penguin India in 2018.
The other way travel writers get published is by creating a portfolio of work by writing for travel magazines. There are many well-reputed magazines you can submit your article to. Keeping these few simple things in mind can help you through their selection process.
- Make sure you are familiar with the particular submission guidelines of the magazines.
- Include original photos. They are essential to a good travel article for most magazines
- Make sure you sound like an experienced traveler.
- Try to focus on the positives, your piece should not simply read like a bad review on Tripadvisor.
- Identify a few things you want to focus on in the article and spend time on them. This is better than cluttering it with details.
- Use appropriate language
So pack your bags and book your flights! Let the world read your journeys in 2022.
Art reviews are written for a variety of forms. Cinema, literature, theatre, music- all are written about. Reviews are essentially analytical and critical pieces that vary in length. One-paragraph newspaper clippings and entire books are all counted as reviews!
Reviews are important for the creators and consumers of art alike. For example, a play review is read by people who saw it, to see what the experts made of it. It is read by people who might go to see it- to see whether it is worth going to or not. And it is read by the actors, to see how their performance was received.
‘Dust of the Caravan’ review: A keen sense of history and a critique of pre-1947 India, One Life to Ride: A Motorcycle Journey to the High Himalayas, Bullets Over Bombay: Satya and the Hindi Film Gangster, etc.
Ghazala Jamil, Mamta Nainy, Arthy Muthanna Singh, Uday Bhatia, etc.
Context and Use
One of the first things a review does is get the work attention that it otherwise might not have received. Especially through newspapers, people are exposed to new events in the art world. they would otherwise not have access to.
Reviews of work that touches upon sensitive issues are especially important for democracy. Reviews also serve as records of popular culture and alternative streams. Art and criticism have always had an important relationship, and inform each other.
Off late in the last few years, books on movies with detailed reviews and critiques have become popular. It is a good way for screenplay writers to learn and at the same time for die-hard fans of the movie to collect memorabilia.
There are two broad categories of reviews- academic and non-academic. Academic reviews are not written with a lay audience in mind. They usually have a lot of technical jargon and are written by specialized experts.
If you are an academic writer, approach academic journals that publish art reviews. You might be working on a book reviewing a piece of music or literature. In which case, traditional publishing houses, as well as self-publishing, are options. Publishers like Oxford University Press, SAGE, Roli Books, etc focusing on academic writing are a good start.
Non-academic reviews are not written for other experts, but for the general public. These articles appear in newspapers and magazines that have a wider reader base. Newspapers like The Times of India, amongst others, have sections for reviews.
For these, you have to approach these publications. Make sure you read submission guidelines carefully and follow them strictly. Usually, these submissions are now electronic, so you don’t have to post your article.
Writing on sports is based on sports reporting largely. It is a kind of journalism that revolves around sports. The details of a match, the historic journey of a team or sport all come under sports reporting.
India at the Olympics, Spell-binding Spells: Cricket’s most magnificent bowling spells, Not Just Cricket: A Reporter’s Journey through Modern India, etc.
Seetha Natesh, Anindya Dutta, Pradeep Magazine, etc.
Context and use
The relationship between any sport and sports reporters is a historic one. Before TV and the internet, fans relied on news reports to find out the outcome of a match. Sports reporting made the sports that are popular today accessible to the masses.
Sports reporting can be done in various forms. Most books by sports reporters cover more complex patterns in their area of focus. Self-publishing and traditional publishing houses are both options that are available. In the case of traditional publishing houses, make sure you read their guidelines. as not all publish reportage of any kind.
Sports reporting is also done in articles published in newspapers and sports journals. These can cover a range of subjects- a player, a match, a team in a particular tournament, or an event. These articles appear in all major national newspapers, as well as most regional ones. There are dedicated magazines and websites you can apply to write for, or submit your article to.
Academic Writing (Social Sciences)
Academic research and writing is another important category of non-fiction writing. The subjects covered are so varied, it is difficult to limit what counts as academic writing. Any research-driven piece of writing written with academic intent is academic writing. Research papers on history, sociology, philosophy, and many more fall under this category.
Indian Society, Lady Doctors: The Untold Stories of India’s First Women in Medicine, Aadhaar: A Biometric History of India’s 12-Digit Revolution, Age Of Pandemics (1817-1920): How they shaped India and the World, etc.
S C Dube, Kavitha Rao, Shankar Aiyyar, Shrayana Bhattacharya, etc.
Context and Use
Academic writing is how research is conducted and furthered. Social scientists and historians study previous research conducted on their topic. Then with their own piece, they either refute or agree with a view.
Usually, academic writing is either in the form of a book or a research paper which varies in length. For research papers, there are journals, specific to the field of study. These publish new research. For a book, publishing houses that focus on academic writing can be approached.
Many universities also encourage and sponsor-specific research and writing. There are various grants and scholarships that can be applied to, which pay for research and writing. For example, Economic and Political Weekly is a popular academic journal in India.
Usually, a research proposal is written and sent to an institution. If it is accepted, then your research will be funded. Before publication, there is a process called peer review. It ensures proper academic rigor and the legitimacy of the research. Flaws like plagiarism and unsubstantiated claims can result in your piece being rejected.
You can also conduct research independently and approach academic journals with your article. In this case, make sure you follow their guidelines, which tend to be inflexible.
Technical writing refers to academic writing related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)
Bamboo shoot: Microbiology, Biochemistry, and Technology of fermentation – a review, Whole Numbers and Half Truths: What Data Can and Cannot Tell Us About, Age Of Pandemics (1817-1920): How they shaped India and the World, etc.
Debangana Choudhary, Jatindra Sahu, GD Sharma, Rukmini S, Chinmay Tumbe, etc.
Context and Use
Technical writing is crucial for the advancement of science. It is crucial to the scientific process as well. For keeping a record of experiments, results, and factors. Research in medical science, for example, is essential in situations like the pandemic.
The process for publishing technical writing is similar to publishing social research. There are various journals, often very specific in their area of interest. Make sure the journal you approach is interested in your topic.
You can write a research proposal and send it to relevant institutions.
Children’s non-fiction is non-fiction writing that has been written with a young audience in mind.
Amrita Sher-Gil: Rebel with a Paintbrush, Let’s Go Time Travelling Again!, etc.
Anita Vachharajani, Kalyani Ganapathy, Subhadra Sen Gupta, etc.
Context and Use
Non-fiction writing is a great way to introduce children to concepts and facts. There are many biographies of people that are written for kids and can be inspiring. The book on Amrita Sher-Gil is a good example of this.
For a children’s book, publishing houses or self-publishing are both options. Publishing houses like Scholastic, SpeakingTiger Imprint focusing on children’s literature, can be especially helpful.
Guides to specific subjects
Guides to specific subjects are of great interest to a target audience. They are for people already interested and provide advice, tips, and explanations.
Four Seasons Gardening in India, The Indian Hobby Farmer: The Complete Guide to Building Your Dream Hobby Farm, How to Patent an Idea in India, etc.
Aruna Ludra, Subroto Mukherjee, Prasad Karhad, etc.
Context and Use
These guides are useful for experts and people already interested in a subject. ‘Four Seasons Gardening in India’ would be of interest to gardeners and hobbyists. The books can also be a way to introduce beginners to the topic, with the least confusion.
Being a very niche topic, finding a traditional publisher is difficult unless you are a brand to reckon with in that special subject or are a Subject Matter Expert.
We are in 2022 and it is high time we have our own non-fiction writers who help readers learn a new skill, understand the complexities of human relationships, improve their health, analyse their investments better or simply acquire a new hobby.